Guide of Palermo

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Having been the crossroads of civilisations for millennia, Palermo delivers a heady, heavily spiced mix of Byzantine mosaics, Arabesque domes and frescoed cupolas. This is a city at the edge of Europe and at the centre of the ancient world, a place where souk-like markets rub up against baroque churches, where date palms frame Gothic palaces and where the blue-eyed and fair have bronze-skinned cousins.

Centuries of dizzying highs and crushing lows have formed a complex metropolis. Here, crumbling staircases lead to gilded ballrooms and guarded locals harbour hearts of gold. Just don’t be fooled. Despite its noisy streets, Sicily’s largest city is a shy beast, rewarding the inquisitive with citrus-filled cloisters, stucco-laced chapels and crooked side streets dotted with youthful artisan studios.

Add to this Italy’s biggest opera house and an ever-growing number of vibrant, new-school eateries and bars and you might find yourself falling suddenly, unexpectedly in love.

When the midday sun shines in Palermo, balconies of third and fourth floor apartments are dressed in red and white candystripe. This decision is not sartorial, but practical.
In peak summer, the heat in Sicily’s capital city stifles and blinds.

Until we sat out on our own balcony in the Palermo sunshine, nowhere in Europe had reminded us quite so much of our travels in Latin America. It was in the Kalsa neighbourhood, a backstreet stone’s throw from the sea where litter piled up on corners and simple restaurants served that morning’s prizes from the sea from plastic plates on red plastic tables, where a gentle chaos would unfold on, behind, and above the streets every morning, noon, and night.

A man bellowing from the bottom of his lungs whilst selling oily fresh sfincione from his cart, women lowering buckets from balconies to collect deliveries of food or bad news, families shouting at each other in love and anger (often the two intermingled). An elderly gentleman would set up a few chairs on the crumbled corner with his handwritten signs and sell beers to his friends at the most irregular of hours. A pack of wild cats clambering over an abandoned truck, sharing the space with several chickens.

It was the type of raw atmosphere we had hoped to find during our month-long road trip around and across Sicily, and here in Palermo we had it in balcony bucketloads. Show me any movie depicting a raucous but convivial Italian quarter in 50s New York, and I would say that’s what that I felt transported to when we would have our cold bottle of Morretti and let the sounds of the neighbourhood provide the backtrack.

However, for all that the coastal city gave us in gritty charms across our stay, it also delivered on cultural glimmers.

A growing alternative city break destination in Europe, Palermo’s reputation has moved far from the blood and bombs of the Mafia-led 70s and 80s. Now travellers arrive in increasing numbers to sample some of the best street food in Europe, in markets which feel like they don’t belong in Europe, get lost amongst crumbling baroque facades, learn to cook and eat like a Palermitani, and slowly start to uncover the oft illogical paradoxes and pleasures of the street life stories which you’ll find on nearly every corner if you just open your eyes to them.
Whether you’re visiting on a short city break, or as a jumping-off point for your own Sicily road trip, here’s our advice on the best things to do in Palermo.

Visiting any destination where you can legitimately get excited about its food is a bonus; visiting a destination like Sicily – a foodie heaven within the undisputed foodie heaven of Italy – is like winning the lottery two weeks in a row.

On the streets and stalls of Palermo you will be able to stuff your face on a daily basis – completely guilt-free – as eating street food is literally an essential cultural activity whilst you’re in the city. And really cheap too, as the highly-regarded specialties are unfussy, unpretentious, and inexpensive due to their roots as the staples of the poor and the impoverished. An added bonus is that much of it is vegetarian.

Across Sicily, each city and region has its own dishes. This approach is so authentic and traditional, that you actually cannot find several items once you cross over into the west or south of the island. So, whilst in Palermo, you simply have to try:

Sfincione

A bit like focaccia, this thick slab of oily bread with a thin topping of tomatoes, onions, and cheese, is all over the place and often sold from the carts of singing men in neighbourhoods. We ate a bunch of these during our time in Palermo (some really good, some not so good), but we still dream of that first one from a non-descript baker’s in Ballar? market. God I wish we could go back there now.

Pane e pannelle

These fried chickpea fritter sandwiches are very Palermo street food (although Emily thinks they’re improved with hot sauce), and a popular breakfast street snack. I Cuochini is highly regarded, but the queues of hungry locals every morning at Friggitoria Chiluzzo near our Airbnb should be trusted.

Arancini

Plump deep-fried balls of sticky, stodgy rice stuffed will all manner of tasty savoury fillings, these make for a great quick snack as you explore Palermo (just wrap it in a napkin and go) or you can get a few and make a lunch out of it. They’re often really hot on the inside, so let them cool down before taking a big bite. It turns out that arancini are quite a divisive food in Sicily due to linguistics and historical rivalries – this article has more.

Brioche con gelato | That sounds a lot fancier than an ice-cream sandwich doesn’t it? Andrew’s sister first told us this was a thing, and we didn’t really believe her. Turns out though, that Sicilians really do put a fat dollop of their wonderful gelato into sweet brioche buns more often than cones and, if you don’t think that sounds appealing because you don’t have the tastebuds of a 4-year old, then believe us. In the historic centre, make a beeline for Cappadonia Gelati, and we also ventured a little out of our way to Antica Gelateria Ilardo based on a local’s tip.

We’re both vegetarian, but even when we ate meat we’re pretty certain that we wouldn’t have got excited about munching on various other popular street foods in Palermo. For example, there’s a stigghiola (grilled sheep or goat intestines on a stick) or pane con la milza (bread with veal spleen or lung) , but we really don’t think anyone should be eating baby cow.

Standard of the street food can vary wildly from stall to stall and cart to cart. Therefore, if you bite into your first sfincione and it tastes like a gift from heaven, take note of where you bought it (or immediately buy another one). And always have small change for spontaneous snack purchases.

Palermo’s outdoor food markets feel like a rule unto themselves. The chaos, the crowds, the catcalls, and the claustrophobia are all essential elements of what makes a visit to at least one of Palermo’s markets during your visit absolutely essential. The range of fresh, local produce on offer is a feast for the senses, and it’s just a bewilderingly wonderful way to spend an hour or two.

On the sunny morning we first explored them, the atmosphere instantly triggered our senses and transported us back to the souks of Morocco and several markets in South America. We are certainly not the only people reminded of being somewhere further away, but, given the Arabic origins and associations of Palermo – and that it is indeed closer to northern Africa than northern Italy – this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. If you haven’t yet been able to travel outside Europe, then your eyes will be opened and senses treated by an hour or two exploring the stalls here.

Palermo has three main markets (we’ve listed them below), and each has a slightly different vibe. Markets are generally open from 7am to 8pm Monday to Saturday, but close at 1pm on Wednesday. Note that the popular street food tours visit one or two markets.

Sprawling cross several streets in a poor, neglected, and diverse central neighbourhood, Ballar? is so far removed from being a market for tourists that it has actually become more popular with tourists craving a peek into Sicilian authenticity.

You will hear several of the stallholders, trying to be heard amongst the smoke and the sizzles, shouting in a quite melodic manner. This is called ‘abbanniate’, and is a way to attract attention to your goods.

Start at 2-14 Via Dalmazio Birago, but you can also access via Piazza Casa Professa or Porta Sant’Agata.

Visit early after breakfast or before lunch for the best atmosphere. If it’s worth a visit in the late afternoon or evening, let us know in the comments! On Sunday mornings, the market expands even further into a flea market.

Although photogenic as hell, with bright lemons, gigantic swordfish heads, and stalls staffed exclusively by handsome, leathered old boys, we were a little disappointed by Vucciria market during the day. Given that Vucciria means ‘chaos’ or ‘noise’ in Sicilian, it was all very much too sedate and compact in comparison to a frenetic walk around Ballaro in 33 degrees. It also more of a bric-a-brac market than we expected.

Thankfully, when we did return to Piazza Caracciolo in search of a sundown drink a couple of days later, the atmosphere was transformed. Cool little makeshift bars and street food stalls with graffiti backdrops, local students hanging out, and a handful of modern restaurants serving local fare made it all feel very much like hipster citybreak hangout spot 101. It runs through the single street linking Piazza San Domenico to Piazza Caracciolo, and also to Piazza Garraffello.

Mercato del Capo

Capo is colourful and atmospheric, meandering through the narrow streets and alleys of the Albergheria and Capo quarters. Pair it with a stop at nearby Teatro Massimo, one of Europe’s largest opera houses and filming location for the final scenes of “Godfather III.”

Food is a big part of Sicily and any visit there, and if you are on a city break to Palermo you basically have to accept that you’re going to eat your bodyweight in carbs. And embrace the fact that you’re allowed to eat your bodyweight in carbs and mark it up as being culturally curious. Between the street food hunts, lingering lunches of fresh pasta, late dinners in romantic piazzas or rowdy backstreets.

Vittorio Emanuele

The ancient street triumphantly runs in a perfectly straight line for nearly two miles from the sea and Porto Felice to Porta Nuova, and encompasses much of Palermo’s main attractions from port to prayers and palaces. As we explored the old town of Palermo in a rather aimless fashion – stopping for espresso al banco, taking photos of cool old signs, going left instead of right – we criss-crossed Vittoria Emanuele many times. This is the artery which the city has been formed around, which keeps it ticking over.

Mafia reality

Mafia’s history and present remains very real in Sicily. In Palermo, up to 80% of businesses were forced to pay protection money to the mafia in the not distant past, and it remains at around 50% today. Mafia in Palermo is a reality! Visitors must be responsible about the the mafia’s role in Palermo – and support those fighting against it – is to support Addiopizzo. This movement, established in 2004, has built and empowered a community of businesses and citizens who refuse to pay the “pizzo” – the extortion/protection money the mafia takes whenever it wants.

Most of the organisation’s efforts won’t necessarily be visible or relevant to travellers but an offshoot – Addiopizzo Travel – attempts to use tourism to raise awareness of the issue, change perceptions, and increase the revenues of those businesses who refuse to pay the pizzo. Their popular 3-hour ‘antimafia’ tour on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, brings you around the key sights of Palermo and visits the places and people that are important for the anti-mafia movement.

If you are escaping to Palermo for three days or more, and hoping for some time on the sand as well as stuffing your face with Sicilian street food, then there is good and bad news.
Firstly, Palermo may be a city on the ocean and its history largely defined by it, but it doesn’t have a city beach of note (although you can catch a fantastic sunset if you head to the coastal park near the harbour).

The good news is that there are a handful of beaches easily reachable by public transport or with a car which will give you that essential dose of vitamin sea. We visited one of the below on a day trip, and the other later on in our road trip around the island.

Mondello – A 30-minute bus ride from the city centre, this popular sandy beach with clear water is the place to head once the weather heats up. Just be warned that during summer it gets super, super busy – including the bus that most of you will use to get there. To find out how to get there plus other info, see our short guide to Mondello Beach.

Ustica – Located 52 km across the water from Palermo is the tiny volcanic island of Ustica; a somewhat unspoilt nature haven popular for its beautiful beaches, island-wide hiking trail and clear waters (perfect for diving or snorkelling). A little similar to Favignana off the west of Sicily, you’ll need a bike to get around and may well find that a few hours during a day trip isn’t quite enough time, in which case you’ll be pleased to know that the main town also has a number of accommodation options. To reach Ustica, simply take the hydrofoil (1.5 hours, €53 round trip, three departures a day) or the much slower ferry (3 hours one way, €38, one departure a day).

Cefalu – Direct train brings you there in under and hour, it actually represents a really excellent way to squeeze in another part of Siciliy on your visit plus hit the beach.

The Catacombs of Palermo are becoming more well-known amongst travellers with each passing year, and provide a macabre alternative addition to itineraries traditionally more focussed on some of the the best things life can offer (that’s an afternoon Aperol Spritz, gelato, and Sicilian food by the way).

In terms of origins, Capuchin monks’ bodies were preserved and laid to rest in the crypts during the 17th – 19th centuries, primarily due to a lack of space in traditional burial sites. Cost: 3 Euro per person, pay at the entrance. Open every day of the year, except Sunday afternoons (October – March), from 9 am – 1 pm, and then 3pm – 6pm. Address: Piazza Cappuccini. It’s a bit of a walk through residential backstreets from the historic centre through faded residential nooks and crannies, so try not to do it in peak sunshine.

We have been fortunate enough to travel in Italy quite a bit over the last few years, and it’s actually overtaken Spain as our happy place in Europe.

Given the country’s rich history (and history of riches), and the primacy of the the Catholic religion, nearly every single destination has its fair share of chapels, churches – and even a cathedral or two. However, we don’t think that a place can be best experienced, understood, or discovered solely based on how many beautiful churches one has visited on a city break. Despite not being religious ourselves, we also struggle with how several active places of worship are slowly being transformed into tourist attractions first and foremost, with many not respecting the site or people who actually use it for spiritual purposes.

Nevertheless, everyone will likely visit the cathedral and one or two churches during a Palermo city break, given their popularity, historic importance, and gilded splendour. These are the most likely to feature on your itinerary:

Palermo Cathedral

Completed in 1184 a re-converted Christian church on the site of a Muslim Mosque that was previously built over a Christian basilica, the cathedral’s aim was to “surpass the beauty” of Monreale Cathedral (a popular day trip from Palermo). Did the Normans achieved that? Yes. The cathedral, set within its palm-tree fringed piazza, dominates the skyline and its architectural grandeur (encompassing several distinct periods and styles) certainly impresses the first-time visitor.

The Cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am – 5.30 pm (March – October), only until 1pm in November-February. On Sundays, it is only possible to visit the Royal Tombs from 9 am – 1 pm. It’s best to go earlier to avoid crowds.

Entry is free for those only visiting the church, and €10 if you want to visit the tombs, treasury, crypts and terrace (which has the best views of Palermo). It is also possible to only buy tickets separately if you don’t wish to visit every area (i.e. you can visit only the roof for €5 – note it’s a climb up 100 or so narrow stairs).

Chiesa di Santa Caterina

Hidden away between Piazza Bellini and Piazza Pretoria, its exquisitely ornate and detailed marble interiors are a joy to behold, particularly after recent restoration work, and the rooftop has nice views too. There is also a bakery. Entry is €3, or €5 to include the rooftop and some other areas.

Palatine Chapel

Built in 1130 and a UNESCO Heritage site, this is Palermo’s top tourist attraction according to the Lonely Planet. You know what though? We didn’t visit it (sorry!). That isn’t a decision we regret (see above rationale!), but you should almost certainly think about popping your head in to marvel at its golden mosaics and lauded Arab-Norman architectural styles if you’re in the city – its location (Google Maps) means it’s sensible to visit before or after the Cathedral. Entry is €11, and there are often queues. Afterwards, take a break in the lovely botanic gardens outside. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 8.15 am – 5.40 pm (with last entry at 5 pm), Sundays 8.15 am – 1 pm (12.15 last entry).

Note that for visiting any of the above churches in Palermo, modest dress is expected and is strictly enforced at the entrance, particularly of women. No bare shoulders or bare cleavage, skirts should be below the knee, and remove any hats or caps. The cathedral offered modesty shalls and skirts for an extra fee of €1, but it’s worth remembering to put a t-shirt and a scarf / or longer skirt in your daypack so you don’t have to pay extra. If you don’t cover up, you will not be allowed entry.
If you have a specific interest in the art and religious history of Palermo, this walking art tour may be ideal for you.

Fontana Pretoria

Moved to Palermo in 644 pieces as a debt repayment, the circular multilayered Pretorian Fountain (Fontana Pretoria) is quite the curiosity. On first look, it ticks various boxes for “beautiful Italian fountain of the 16th century” with its delicate statues and clean white marble. The nude and semi-nude figure, surveilled from the distance, appear to have had a spell cast upon them, doomed to keep a secret forever.

All around the fountain, you will find dozens fantastical heads of elephants, dogs, cats, rhinos, and various other curious beasts.

In the 18th and 19th century, the fountain’s nudity and associations with corruption caused Piazza Pretoria to become known as Piazza della Vergogna (Square of Shame) amongst the Palermitani. Today, nobody is ashamed of a work of art that is free and accessible to everyone.

It is possible to climb the stairs and walk around the circular fountain, but please respect the rules about not sitting on it and touching it (and make sure you tell off anyone you see breaking the rules).

SUNDOWN APERITIVO

Any city break worth its salt is all about balance, and not all of it should revolve around visiting churches, museums, or other attractions which can sometimes feel more like an obligation rather than a pleasure. And, as you are in pretty pretty Italy, most of your fondest memories and experiences will be derived from seeking out that balance.

Our go-to place for a 5 pm drink or two was Ai Bottai on the corner of Via Bottai and Vittoria Emmanuelle, largely because it had a great playlist, an extensive cocktail menu charging €4-5 for any drink, and prime people watching seats outside. Just across the road, all along the narrow Via Chiavettieri, there are another bunch early evening and late night bars and aperitivo terraces to choose from.

Another of our favourite spots for a drink in Palermo was on Discesa dei Giudici, just a short walk from the Pretoria fountain. The street has a few independent artisanal shops, plus a couple of cool bars.

An aperitivo in Italy generally means the pre-meal drink you have from about 6 pm onward; it’s the time to be savoured between work and a the late Italian dinner. The drink is usually a glass of wine or a cocktail, and is accompanied a by snack (included in the price of the drink). Now, depending on how touristy the place is, what the standard of the bar is, and where you’re having aperitivo in Italy, that snack can range from a cheap bowl of crisps to a full-on platter of fresh bread, meats, and cheeses or even a buffet! You’ll see various places advertising their aperitivo deals in Palermo from about 5 pm.

HOW TO GET TO PALERMO FROM PALERMO AIRPORT

Palermo Airport (officially called Falcone-Borsellino Airport) is 35 kms outside the city and a hub for most flight routes in and out of the island. The shuttle bus to/from the city centre is easy, regular, comfortable, and not too expensive.

Running every 30 minutes, the bus picks up from just outside the airport entrance doors and drops off at various points in Palermo, terminating in the new bus station next to the central train station. Total travel time between the two points is 45-55 minutes depending on traffic.

A single ticket costs €6, but you can get a return for €10 if booking online. You can find the full timetable for the Prestia e Comande bus here or buy your tickets in advance via their app. Tickets can also be bought at their kiosk in the airport by card or cash (8 am to 10.30 pm), or on board the bus with cash – although it is a little bit more expensive if purchased this way.

There used to be a train running into the city centre – the Trinacria Express – but the line was closed when we visited and we couldn’t find any word online about when it’s going to be re-opened.

CAR RENTAL

If Palermo is the start-point for your own Sicily road trip (like us), then you’ll be happy to know that an abundance of local and international car rental firms are based at Palermo Airport (tip – we look and book via Auto Europe for the best deals). However, as it’s a popular car rental collection point, expect lengthy queues (especially if you’re renting with one of the cheaper firms).

All rental companies have their vehicles parked in the car park just a short walk across the road from the airport entrance (we were concerned when doing our research about renting a car that some of them had shuttle buses and long wait times, but that seems to have changed).

If you’re planning renting a car and taking a road trip in Sicily, then we will have a bunch of posts with tips and advice published soon! In the meantime, read our essential car rental tips article to save money and stress for your next road trip.

TAXIS

The quickest way into town, but also the most expensive at around €50-60. Taxi drivers in Sicily have reputation, not entirely undeserved, for overcharging and we wouldn’t recommend taking an unbooked taxi over the bus. There are also collectivo taxis waiting outside the airport and the train station, which are ‘unofficial’ and charge €7 per person. Again, we wouldn’t recommend these for city-breakers or first-timers in Sicily. If you prefer convenience and certainty for your arrival, then consider this airport transfer.

TRANSPORT IN AND AROUND THE CITY

Palermo is a compact place for citybreakers, and we simply walked everywhere that we had to visit within and around the old town. The bus and rail network for onward connections to the east and west, or for your Palermo Day Trips, is also decent and affordable. Our recommendation for an overview of public transport connections from Palermo to the rest of Sicily is to look and book in English using Omio.

  1. A Faded-Grandeur Guide
    The city is full of buildings that look like they could use a good power-wash, but that’s the charm. Claudio Gulli, the historian of art venue Palazzo Butera, on his city’s unmissable relics.
    The Botanical Garden
    “The Orto Botanico [botanical garden] perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Palermo — plants from all over the world were once acclimated here before being sent all over Europe. It was imagined by a Jacobin Frenchman, Lйon Dufourny, who came to study Greek architecture in Sicily in the late 1700s, as many architects did. Once you pass through the templelike neoclassical welcome building, you can stroll through greenhouses filled with impossibly lush vegetation, wander through the palm garden dotted with carved marble figures, and marvel at the enormous drooping limbs of the Australian banyan tree here.”
    The Trio of Baroque Churches
    “To understand Sicilian Baroque, there are three churches along Via Torremuzza in the historical quarter of Kalsa — Santa Teresa Alla Kalsa, Santa Maria Della Pietа, and the Noviziato dei Crociferi. They’re all from the end of the 1600s, early 1700s, and each has its own distinctive faзades including articulated windows and double rows of columns. Today, they seem a bit neglected, but they were incredibly important structures, and the designs for the frescoes of the Pietа are in the Louvre.”
    The Frescoed Palazzo
    “In Piazza Marina, the 14th-century Palazzo Steri of the Chiaramonte family defined Gothic architecture in Sicily: Its notable windows in black-and-white stone became known as ‘Chiaramonte Gothic.’ The University of Palermo is restoring the intricately painted wooden ceiling, a masterpiece of Gothic decoration from the 1370s and 1380s that will be unveiled in a few months. You can tour through the Inquisition Museum inside, where you can still see the drawings prisoners made on the walls.”
    The Roofless Church
    “The unfinished 16th-century Spasimo church, which was supposed to contain a painting by Raphael (now in the Prado), has no roof and is one of the most evocative open-air churches in Italy. It’s located right in the center of Palermo, and on summer nights there are popular film festivals, theater performances, and jazz concerts on the grounds.”
  2. How the Art Crowd Hangs Out
    Days at Baroque palazzos, nights at former hardware stores.

Palazzo Butera

Massimo Valsecchi, one of Europe’s most prominent art collectors, bought Palazzo Butera (Via Butera, 18) to exhibit his collection (which includes works by Gerhard Richter and Gilbert & George, plus site-specific pieces by Anne and Patrick Poirier) to the public.

The Riso Museum

Via Vittorio Emanuele, 365. Located inside a restored Baroque palazzo, it shows from contemporary Italian artists like Giuseppe Veneziano. It’s in the pedestrianized part of the city, where everyone is out walking these days.

The once-industrial area of Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa has film festivals and photo shows, and it’s home to ZAC (Via Paolo Gili 4), the center for contemporary art — now a magnet for local creatives. After events, people hang and drink beer.

Galleria d’Arte Moderna

Via Sant’Anna, 21. There’s a collection of art from the 1800s until the 1950s. They show contemporary exhibitions inside a part of the complex that’s a beautiful old Franciscan convent.

Nighttime Drink Spots

Via dei Cassari, 6. In the old city center has a talented bartender who makes a divine gin-and-tonic, but what I love best is the surreal atmosphere of the place— there’s a piano and chandeliers and mismatched stuffed armchairs — as if you’re in a Palermo of the past.

Le Cattive

Passeggiata delle Cattive, Piazza Santo Spirito). A wine bar inside Palazzo Butera with a cavernous space that’s very antique feeling: tiled floors, pistachio-colored walls, but mixed with sleek pendant lighting.

Ferramenta

Piazza Giovanni Meli, 8. It was a hardware store that opened in the 1800s; today, the bar still has all the old little drawers where they used to store their tools and parts. I’m half-German, so I like to drink beer there, but at least it’s Sicilian beer.

In Palermo, so much of life happens on the street, particularly on Via Paternostro. A lot of artists, musicians, and creative people in town hang out at Botteghe Colletti (Via Alessandro Paternostro 79), a bar in a 1940s-era collar store. Their Campari cocktail with Sicilian herbs is amazing.

Olivella Bed & Breakfast

olivellabb.it, from $50. This homey five-room B&B that’s housed in a former silver factory manages to feel modern while also maintaining a lot of original details, like heirloom bed frames, tiled floors, and frescoed ceilings. Plus it’s very central, located right by Teatro Massimo.

Piazza Borsa

piazzaborsa.it, from $125. Here’s the five-star Villa Igeia, but it’s far from the center. Piazza Borsa is four stars; it’s right by Quattro Canti and in the erstwhile 19th-century stock-exchange building, which has a courtyard and a fountain.

Palazzo Natoli

palazzonatoli.com, from $175. Palazzo Natoli was which opened in 2018 inside a Baroque townhouse. Its eight rooms are plushily modern with chandeliers and gilded mirrors, and it has its own small bistro offering dishes with locally grown and organic ingredients.

At A’Cuncuma

Via degli Scalini 6. A bare-bones restaurant with tables in the parking lot, service is notoriously horrendous, yet the excellent seafood turns diners into faithful customers. “The freshness of the fish makes all the difference, and their version is a must.

Ristorante L’Ottava Nota

Via Butera 55. A minimalist setting, with white brick and gray wood, that mixes tweaked Palermitan cooking with local spices. “Chef Vincenzo Pinto’s seaweed version at A’Cuncuma (Via Judica 21) is incredible.

Pistachio Granita in Kalsa

Palermo’s cuisine particularly shines when it comes to the most humble street-food specialties. Orazio Corona, who runs the Corona Trattoria seafood restaurant with his parents, maps the out the best snacks in the historic center.

Panineria Friggitoria Chiluzzo

Piazza Della Kalsa 7. It’s very simple here — just a stand on the street — but they serve fantastic babbaluci, small snails with parsley, that locals love to eat, especially when threre’s a parade around July 15 for the festival of Santa Rosalia.

Pani Ca’ Meusa Porta Carbone

Via Cala 62. The owners make the city’s best pane con la milza, a Palermitan sandwich of veal offal that you order schietta (with lemon) or maritata con formaggio(with cheese). There’s an old-fashioned tiled counter and plastic chairs outside where you can eat with a view of the sea.

Franco U’ Vastiddaru

Via Vittorio Emanuele 102. This place is a classic for anything fried, but especially for pane con panelle, a sandwich filled with chickpea fritters. They have tables set up outside, and it’s very close to Piazza Marina, where there’s a nice Sunday flea market.

I Cuochini

Via Ruggero Settimo 68. This little laboratory has been open since 1826 and looks like a speakeasy, in that you have to go inside a courtyard to find this little spot. They make the best crocchette di latte fritto, little fried balls of milk with flour and nutmeg. A plate costs 70 cents, but it’s only open for lunch.

Gelateria Cappadonia

Via Vittorio Emanuele 401. An amazing place that opened last year. The owner serves gelato with chocolate, hazelnut, and tangerine, and he uses a method like the old-fashioned Sicilian one for making the local specialty, granita, with fresh fruit, pistachios, almonds, or coffee.

Artifact-Hunt in Mozia

1.5 hours by bus and shuttle boat. The first place the Phoenicians settled in Sicily nearly 3,000 years ago.
Visit the Whitaker Museum and its famously beautiful Greek statue from the fifth century B.C., the Mozia Charioteer, and the Tasca D’Almerita vineyard, whose profits help maintain the island. Take the bus from Palermo to Marsala and then another bus to the ferry dock, where a shuttle boat takes you on the five-minute trip to the island.

Snorkel Around Ustica

1.5 hours by boat. Far less known than the nearby Aeolian Islands, Ustica is closer to Palermo and surrounded by state-protected crystalline waters. The beaches of Scoglitti, Cala Sidoti, and the white-cliff-enclosed Piscine are favorites for swimming and snorkeling. Stop into Rosso di Sera for locally caught seafood, including the island’s signature shrimp. Take the Liberty Lines hydrofoil from Palermo’s ferry terminal.

Picnic at Riserva Dello Zingaro

70 minutes by car or taxi. This four-mile-long nature reserve west of Palermo begins with the Tonnara di Scopello hotel, a former tuna fishery active from the 13th to the 20th century. The park winds from Scopello to San Vito Lo Capo amid sea-worn limestone cliffs sheltering pebbly and sandy coves, along some of the bluest water in the Mediterranean. Grab a pane cunzato, a sandwich on wood-fired bread, at Forno di Stabile ed Anselmo in Scopello.

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